How Trash Talking Your Ex Affects Your Kids
One of the most damaging experiences children of divorce deal with is listening to the belittlement and criticism of one parent from the other parent. It is so tempting to blast the other parent, to get your revenge by cutting them down in the eyes of your child. It’s normal to feel hurt and to want everyone to know how wronged you’ve been. Please, please do NOT say these things to your child or within earshot of your child! You may think you are retaliating against your ex but the unintended victim is your child!
Why is holding your tongue one of the most critical elements in the emotional health of your child? The primary reason is when you criticize the other parent you are essentially attacking the child also. You may not see it that way but the child does! The child feels that the other parent is half of who they are and if you are criticizing the parent, you are also criticizing the child. You may feel a temporary surge of relief but the permanent damage that is inflicted on your child is not worth it.
The child should never be placed in the position of having to choose one parent over the other. When they listen to the other parent being torn apart verbally, they feel they must choose sides. Feeling forced to choose loyalties is destructive and adds to the emotional challenges they are already facing. There is no winner, everyone loses in this scenario.
Your child is NOT your best friend or your confidante’! Even if your child is a teenager or appears to be emotionally mature, they should not have the responsibility of dealing with adult issues. Do not succumb to using them as your sounding board about how your ex did you wrong. That is their parent and they do not need to hear your dirty laundry. See a therapist or meet with a trusted friend if you need to vent.
What if your ex is the one talking badly about you to the child? That’s a tough one and requires great constraint on your part. Dr. Richard Warshak, in the book, Divorce Poison, suggests that you calmly discuss the issue with your child, asking them how they feel about what they heard and showing them empathy for their feelings. If what was said by the other parent was true, you must acknowledge your mistakes and apologize. If it wasn’t true, simply explain the other parent was mistaken and clarify the truth. Explain to the children that harsh words are sometimes spoken in anger and not truly meant. Resist the urge to retaliate. It’s not fair but sometimes you have to be the strong one and continue to be calm and support a healthy relationship between your child and the other parent. Remember, you’re doing it for the sake of your child.
Anytime you’re tempted to trash talk your ex, picture your child in their place. Envision that you are saying those words about your child because that is how they will absorb the words. Think about the irreparable damage your irretrievable words might do to your beloved child and resist the negative talk. Your words have great power, use them wisely!
“Words have energy and power with the ability to help, to heal, to hinder, to hurt, to harm, to humiliate, and to humble.” -Yehuda Berg